PEF President Spence’s testimony on workforce development hits hot-button topics
PEF President Wayne Spence spoke about several important issues to PEF members when he testified before the joint legislative committee on the 2018-2019 Proposed Budget for Workforce Development.
State Assembly members and senators listened intently at the January 24 hearing in Albany as Spence said, “We are doing less with less.”
The union president explained how several hundred PEF members at the state Office of Information Technology Services used their own time to prepare for civil service testing, and then later learned certain jobs were given to select individuals, without any consideration to the exam results.
“PEF believes selective tailoring of employment must be stopped as it leads to further erosion of the civil service system. My concern is the Executive Budget proposes more policies that undermine the civil service system and expands privatization, while diminishing public services to your constituents.”
Spence also discussed the dangerous flaws in the state’s design-build program, and questioned if these projects such as the Tappan Zee Bridge will stand the test of time because there was no proper inspection or state oversight.
“This budget expands the design-build program and I ask you to reconsider,” Spence said. “The state has dedicated and qualified engineers who are not motivated by profit, but put people and safety over profit.”
His testimony touched on the state’s critical nursing shortage. Spence said according to a state Department of Health report a 20 percent statewide vacancy exists among nursing positions, and as high as 75 percent at Sing Sing Correctional Facility.
“Recruitment is ongoing, but to retain qualified nurses the state has to compete with what nurses earn in the private sector. If the state is serious about addressing this shortage, it should consider making the nursing title a salary grade 18, instead of 16.
“The nursing shortage is so bad, that one of our PEF nurses at SUNY Upstate Medical Center was denied to use her own vacation time when she wanted to volunteer to help the people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. SUNY Upstate did not want to let one nurse go. That is how severe the shortage is there.”
Spence emphasized how retaining qualified state employees at the state Office of Mental Health, and other facilities that treat a vulnerable population, is a problem due to the structure of the state’s Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs.
“I have members who work at the Justice Center, but I must say most of the time nothing but injustice is the result for both the staff and clients. I learned one of our members has a daughter who was raped in a facility, and after the review from the Justice Center, the girl was placed back into the same facility with the man who raped her. If victims are not being served, and the staff is not getting served, what is the purpose of the Justice Center?”
Spence’s testimony included the problems of transitioning mentally ill individuals to outside homes when some individuals need inpatient services. He explained how state prisons and local jails are housing mentally ill people, monitored by corrections officers who have no training to help those suffering from conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
“We are now criminalizing mental illness. What we are doing is a human rights crime and we should be ashamed this is even happening. New York state should be a leader and show the rest of the country how to respectfully treat those with mental illness by having a solution to their care and housing problem. PEF members, who have expertise in this area, can help lead the way,” Spence said.
Assemblyman Felix Ortiz told Spence he wanted to be included in future discussions concerning the Justice Center and the mental health population issues.
“I am willing to step up to the plate to help with these issues,” Ortiz said. “And I want to commend the PEF members who volunteered to help the people in Puerto Rico.”
That sentiment was shared by other legislators including state Sen. Catharine Young, who said, “Thank you, and to all your members for what they do.”